Why We Lost the Vietnam War (3)

Continuing my discussion of the reasons we lost the Vietnam war:

Fourth, we didn’t understand that the sheer primitiveness of Vietnamese life, by American standards, meant that destruction of infrastructure and industry, particularly in North Vietnam, had far less effect that it would have had in a more advanced country. The North Vietnamese depended largely on walkers and bicycles rather than trucks and roads for transport. They did little manufacturing but relied on China and the Soviet Union for war materiel. So the destruction of roads, bridges, and factories was far less damaging that it would have been in, say, the U.S.

Fifth, as many of us understood by 1968, victory in Vietnam would go to politicians who won the support of the South Vietnamese people, no matter what happened on the battlefield. The real battle was for “the hearts and minds” of the South Vietnamese populace. The series of incompetent and self-serving South Vietnamese governments propped up by the U.S. made winning impossible.

For all these reasons, the U.S. won every major battle in South Vietnam but lost the war.

I believe that the U.S could have won the war militarily by invading North Vietnam, maybe even with nuclear weapons. Such an assault would have risked bringing China and perhaps the Soviet Union into the war. Then it would have turned into World War III, perhaps a nuclear war. My sense is that we were wise to give up and lose the war rather than take such a risk.

And I accept the argument that if even we had won on the battlefield, we would have lost politically. No government installed or supported by the U.S. would have won allegiance from the South Vietnamese people, historically savagely determined to be independent of foreign control.

From the beginning, the war in Vietnam was a lost cause. But we Americans, and especially our government, failed to grasp that we couldn’t win.

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